Keep Moving Efficiently

By Dustan Lang

Often times I am approached by athletes asking how they can improve their performance. They want to know how they can get faster, stronger, more flexible, or have better balance. My answer is always the same: improve the efficiency of your movement. Athletes that move efficiently are those that are able to plan and sequence their movements in a fluid and coordinated manner. The correct muscles and motor patterns are used rather than compensatory movements that lead to injury.

How does moving more efficiently improve speed, strength, flexibility and balance? Efficient movement will lengthen the soft tissue around the muscles, which improves flexibility. The muscles are also lengthened so that they are able to generate maximum power and strength. When the joints are able to move through their full range of motion, the nerves in the body are better able to help improve balance and stability. As you can see, an athlete that is able to move efficiently will not only perform better, but will also be much healthier and less prone to injury.

In order to improve the efficiency of your movement, you need to work on movement exercises that are specific to your sport. For example, the movement exercises used by a squash player will look very different than those used by a hockey player. In fact, exercises for the different positions in the same sport will look different, because they are required to move differently during the sport. The exercises performed by the hockey forward would look different than those completed by the defenceman. The exercises will mimic the exact demands required for that sport and position. If performed consistently, the body will become more efficient and comfortable, which will transition into improved performance during sport.

During training, warm up, or rehabilitation, athletes should always question whether the exercises will help them return to or excel at their sport. Ask yourself: do I perform any of these movements while I am playing? If the answer is no, then the exercises are likely not the right ones for you. Work together with a professional to get sports specific movement exercises that will improve your efficiency and decrease your risk of injury. Don’t just keep moving, keep moving efficiently.

 

From Coach to Competitor

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I always considered myself an athlete while growing up. I played AA hockey, basketball, racquet sports, and would play any other sport if asked. After high school, I stopped competing and spent a few years coaching hockey while I went to university. As I began a career in emergency services I got away from competing and coaching. It wasn’t until I went back to school for Excercise Science that I got back into coaching and it is an absolute passion of mine.

The best of both worlds, firefighting and athletics, had an opportunity to collide this August at the World Police Fire Games, in Los Angeles. The World Police Fire Games are the second largest international sporting event in the world, behind the Olympics. Over 8000 athletes from 65+ countries competed in 40+ sports. When registration opened and the sports were announced, I knew I wanted to attend and compete in CrossFit. I have been CrossFitting on and off for 3 years, primarily as a means to stay in shape and be strong for my job as a firefighter. I decided to get serious in January to train for the games and began following online programming and worked with fantastic training partners.

As the Games got closer I realized that I haven’t competed in anything for a really long time. In my 3 years of CrossFit, I have only attended 1 competition and that was with a partner. I have never excelled in individual sports because I struggle with mental preparation skills and allow myself to feel the pressures of competition. When I realized that I was starting to worry about the event, I had to take a moment and check myself. I asked myself what kind of coach would I be if I couldn’t take the advice I give my athletes on a regular basis?

With 2 months until the Games I decided to take better control of my training and coach myself how I would any athlete. First thing I did was dial in my nutrition and made sure I was fuelling myself appropriately for my training. By no means did I diet, but I got rid of things that made me feel sick and began listening to my body better. This listening to my body flowed over to training days as well. I had been dealing with some health issues and I realized the best thing I could do was train to how I felt each day instead of pushing myself on days I knew I couldn’t handle it. These things lead to me feeling significantly better with about a month to go until the competition. I then began training to peak for the Games. I looked at my volume, intensity, the types of modalities I was training and shifted my focus to specific pre-competition variables. The last 10 days before I left for the Games I cut my volume and began my “peak”.

I went into the Games feeling fresh and ready. My mental game was a bit of a wreck as I was extremely nervous, but as I have coached several athletes to do so, I downloaded some Head Space and mental prep audio files. I got to the games and was amazed with the set up and the venue. I was excited and nervous but knew I was ready. I made game plans for each workout; I had practiced them all so I knew how I wanted to attack each one. At the end of the day, I beat all my practice times and even managed to PR my Jerk. I had a blast.

It was quite the experience for me to shift to competitor mode. But I listened to my own advice and it worked. I walked away from this experience with a greater understanding of what my athletes go through, and I think this will make me a better coach.

Learn to love big changes

When the idea of change comes up, people are typically in two camps. Either people love change,or they hate it.

I for one get excited about the prospect of change, but once the change occurs,I find myself a bit nervous,and an unpleasant transition period usually ensues. This is especially evident when someone moves cities and has to start over. They need to make new friends, get used to a new environment, and ultimately prove themselves to a new group of people.

This is the reality for young emerging athletes when leave home and move away to go play their sport at the collegiate level. Typically,the prospect of playing their sport at the next level is a dream come true,and they are very excited, but when the change actually occurs,it can be a trying time.

I remember leaving home for the first time;I moved from Medicine Hat all the way to Lennoxville, Que. I was fulfilling my dream of playing football at the collegiate level. I remember sitting down with my parents and explaining that I wanted to move to Quebec. Their reaction was one of initial hesitation, but ultimately,they were supportive.

So my Dad and I got on the plane and made the trek across the country. There was an immediate culture shock as I had never experienced theQuébécois culture. Nevertheless, my excitement continued as I registered for classes, moved all of my belongings into my dorm room, and met some of my new teammates.

Then it came time for my dad to leave. I remember standing outside of my residence building as he drove away. Tears welled up in my eyes,and the change became real. I wept for at least an hour that day. Keep in mind that these were the days before cell phones,and the only way to chat with my parents was to either call them long distance, which had an astronomical price tag,or to call them collect. This is what I did:I sat in a pay phone booth outside of my residence building once or twice a week and chatted with them.

Over time though, things got better. I met new friends, found a love for the Québécois culture, and excelled in the sport that I loved. I never look back at my experience playing football in Quebec and have an ounce of regret. Sure,it was a trying time, but I grew a lot as an athlete and overall as a person.

My reality back in 2002 is about to become a reality for a lot of local athletes who have recently graduated high school. Right now,there is a ton of excitement as some of the athletes have signed scholarships and are maybe moving a short distance or maybe even a long distance like I did. I want to encourage these athletes to stay the course. Even though it may be difficultinitiallymoving away from all that you have ever known, I can assure you that you will not regret it. You will grow immensely as an athlete and a person.

Catching up

Nate Stark, a former Alberta Sport Development Centre athlete here in Medicine Hat,moved away to play baseball at Colby College in Kansas last year. He stopped by my office the other day and told me about all that had happened since he left home. I could do nothing but smile as I saw the excitement in his eyes. He has grown so much as an athlete and as a person. We are so proud of him and all that he has done and accomplished!

Cory Coehoorn is the coordinator of the ASDC — Southeast at Medicine Hat College and would love to chat with you or anyone who knows an emerging athlete that could benefit from our services. The ASDC-SE offers services to emerging athletes regardless of their financial circumstances. He can be reached via phone at403-504-3547or via email at ccoehoorn@mhc.ab.ca.